ACLU of Northern CA Expresses Concerns About Police Tactics Used During Anti-War Protests in San Francisco

March 25, 2003 12:00 am

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SAN FRANCISCO — In a letter sent today to the city’s acting chief of police, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California expressed concerns about some of the police tactics used in dealing with anti-war protests that resulted in the arrests of more than 1,500 people over the last several days.

“It is vitally important that the San Francisco police follow its own procedures and respect constitutional rights in responding to non-violent civil disobedience,” said Mark Schlosberg, Police Practices Policy Director of the ACLU of Northern California.

“While the ACLU is continuing to monitor and investigate the police response to the protests, we have received reports of police sweeps where bystanders have been detained and arrested and where clearly designated legal observers have been arrested,” he said.

In the letter, the ACLU noted reports of police actions that violate the Department’s policies and infringe on constitutional rights. These include:

  • Police sweeps where officers detain and/or arrest groups of people, including people who were not engaged in civil disobedience but were simply bystanders. This problem seems to be compounded by officers not giving individuals sufficient time to disperse after an order to disperse has been issued, in violation of department protocol.
  • Improper dispersal orders, including dispersal orders that threaten the use of batons should protesters not disperse (as seen on KRON news on Thursday).
  • The arrest of clearly designated legal observers, despite departmental policy protecting the rights of onlookers, and contrary to an agreement, reached before this latest round of protests, that the department would allow legal observers to carry out their important role of witnessing police actions.
  • Allegations of the use of excessive force in detentions and arrests.

“We understand that handling large numbers of protesters engaging in civil disobedience poses difficulties and significant problems for the police,” said Alan Schlosser, Legal Director of the ACLU of Northern California. “However, the public and political pressures to enforce the law, that have been widely reported in the media over the last few days, should not result in police tactics that ignore longstanding departmental policies and undermine the constitutional rights of protestors.”

The ACLU letter is online at

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